Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
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How publisher data can define the “next web”

The Telegraph’s subscription business has overtaken its advertising revenues as the publisher says it has stopped chasing scale at all costs. 

It has launched a suite of first-party advertising solutions that will now be marketed under the banner of Telegraph 1 as part of a plan to lock in a “reader-first”, privacy-compliant future. These will complement its subscription business and give advertisers more valuable insights and ad opportunities with an increasingly engaged audience. 

Karen Eccles, senior director of commercial innovation, says that the publisher has “entirely stopped chasing scale for scale’s sake” and that the new approach delivers better results for advertising, although peripheral traffic has reduced slightly. 

It is now time for publishers to go to market and educate advertisers and agencies about the benefits a first-party first approach will bring.

She was talking at the virtual Make Possible event, hosted by publisher data management platform Permutive and which also included a question and answer session with Celine Saturnino, chief commercial officer of Total Media, and Leonardo Oliveira, Vodafone’s senior global brand and media manager. 

Beyond the Cookie: Inside The Telegraph’s Five Year, First-party Strategy 

“The Telegraph is futureproofing our journalism through a five-year subscriber first strategy, which we articulate as 10.1.23 – this represents our goal of achieving 10 million registered users and one million paid subscribers by the end of 2023,” said Eccles.

Two years into the plan, it counts some 6.8 million registered subscribers, up by 1.3 million since January this year, and more than 522,000 paying subscribers, of whom 320,000 are digital. 

The strategy has been informed by a number of “Oh shit!” or “lightbulb” moments over the past few years, the biggest being Apple launching the latest iteration of its Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature (ITP 2.3) this time last year. 

This was when the difference in performance between Safari, which had banned third-party cookies by default, and Chrome, which had not, became an industry-defining moment, rather than just a Telegraph-wide issue. It also prompted many advertisers and agencies to seriously review and strengthen their own first-party strategies. 

[The Google Chrome announcement] was definitely ‘oh shit!’ for many, but a sense of relief for us too. Now at least we know what to expect, have a time frame and are able to plan for it together.

How and Why Publishers Must Share Learnings and Educate the Marketplace

Other moments that have underlined the necessity of first-party solutions over third-party have been: the introduction of privacy legislations, browser changes already enacted and upcoming, the beginning of lockdown that “almost overnight” dramatically changed audience behaviour and segments, and the paid transparency report launched by PwC, ISBA and the AOP in June 2020. 

Education, now, was key – and it was incumbent on the publisher to lead this as well as come together to help standardise the new metrics that mattered, she believed. “‘Metrics that Matter’ is our challenge to the click, because optimising to the click alone encourages bad practices,” said Eccles, who called on her compatriots to get in touch with her and the AOP with a promise to share The Telegraph’s “homework”. “We need to think about how a measurement system has traction across the industry… We’re transparent, talk to us, we’ll show you everything we’ve got.”

Under the Telegraph 1 banner will also come Telegraph Unity, a secure data matching strategy through a data cleanroom with the ability to activate those matched audiences at scale, and Telegraph Texture, which since July has allowed contextual targeting by positive or negative sentiments.

Advances in edge computing and machine learning technology mean that today The Telegraph “doesn’t rely on third-party data anymore, just first-party”. 

Changing Habits: Sales, Stress and Success

The sales team is now talking to advertisers and agencies about the benefits, focusing on educating the marketplace about what is available now and next. However, the first education piece came internally. 

“We realised in the summer of 2018 that we had to change habits and that it would be painful. It is hard for an advertising team to stop doing things that have worked and that they have been good at [in favour] of something new. But the team has been amazing with grabbing it and going out with it.”

Already it has seen a 136% increase in targetable inventory, with a solution that is cookie-free and privacy compliant across all browsers, has increased scale of audience segments and is in real time. 

Why Advertisers need to Test Solutions before the Cookie Disappears

Vodafone’s Oliveira agreed that publishers needed to come up with more unified measurement solutions. “This, rather than a workaround, which doesn’t benefit anyone but the walled gardens,” he said. Advertisers were increasingly willing to look outside of those walled gardens, but the challenge would be in effectively and efficiently being able to measure success. 

Oliveira believed that publishers clearly understood the challenges ahead, not just in terms of data and tracking but the creative opportunities that lay ahead and urged advertisers to follow suit. “third-party cookies will be inaccessible, less trustworthy or not available for advertising. We need to prepare for a world without them,” he added. 

It was incumbent on advertisers to learn and understand as much as possible while third parties were still available to them, in order to test the best alternative solutions in a cookie-less world. “Contextual is having a revival,” he continued, predicting more innovation and more next-generation technology. “As advertisers we need to stay aware and ensure we don’t miss major opportunities.”

Digital Advertising’s Exciting Future

Saturnino said her agency had been planning for a world with reduced or no third-party tracking cookies for several years. She lauded The Telegraph’s plans and urged other publishers to “lean in” to do likewise, and to have a collaborative approach. Agencies relied on measuring success across the media plan rather than title by title, she added. 

From a brand perspective, different agency clients were at different points in the first-party data journey, although many of the more advanced advertisers were pushing for more business-based outcomes rather than media ones. 

“I would love to see the role of digital start to change a bit. If we move away from this focus on cookie-based targeting, which leads us down to one version of measurement and the role of digital, into a much more interesting and brand-focused role. That would be a really exciting future,” concluded Saturnino. 

If you would like to watch the event on-demand or view Karen Eccles’ presentation slides, please click here

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